All entries for May 2008
May 30, 2008
Cultural Studies Degree Courses: How to Utilise Your Media Studies A Level
Courses are being added over time. This is being published now to help AS student returners begin to consider possible courses as personal tutors begin to help you prepare personal statements and think about how to spend some time over the summer researching what you want to do.
You are a student who has now returned from your AS exams as an A2 student: Suddenly the world has changed. This time next year you will be on your way to somewhere probably a higher education course. If you have studied subjects such as Media, Communications Studies, Art History, History, Geography, History, English, Film Studies or else contemporary foreign languages this could be the sort of course for you.
In principle Cultural Studies is very demanding for interdisciplinary work requires a lot of reading and a committment to working across different disciplines. But this work is truly fascinating and rewarding. It can give you real insights into the world and you will be surroundided by very enthusiastic students. If you are doing the current OCR Media Studies A2 the critical research unit is an excellent introduction to research methods for research is a practical and intellectual set of disciplines. My students do some secondary research and primary research including textual research, qualitative research and some quantitative research. This means that you will not only have found out something interesting about the chosen subject area but you will learned about the basics of research design. This is a enormously important skill which has many applications in contemporary society and can be used in a wide range of jobs and careers.
Below I have listed a range of some of the University Degree Courses in Cultural Studies. Often Cultural Studies can be combined with a modern language which is a very nice combination. There is no judgement being passed here on the courses, you must research them for yourself as all of them have different flavours and priorities. There may be sociological tendencies, textual tendencies, or other country tendencies depending on the range of expert knowledge available. The nice thing about cultural studies is that it is incredibly diverse and it can go into areas where other subjects dare not.
You will find that the useful online guide to university courses doesn't have an entry under Cultural Studies. This is precisely because of its interdisciplinary nature which means that it cuts across categories. It is suggested that you check out the results for the different departments that you are interested in which may contribute to Cultural Studies. The link here is to Media Studies and Communication however you may wish to look under sociology or the foreign language sector to get a better idea.
Where did Cultural Studies Come From?
The origins of cultural studies come from the educational corps that was established during World War 2. Several people who served in this were very keen on ensuring that the worling classes received high quality education and as a result they joined the WEA (Workers Education Association) which often provided Trade Unionists with the knowledge and skills to carry out their work more effectively.
Some of those who had been in the Army during the war were to become celebrated academics strongly associated with what was to become cultural studies. These include:
Richard Hoggart. Hoggart wrote aong other things the very influential The Uses of Literacy and established the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Raymond Williams. Williams had a genuinely working class background from a railway signalman's family in Wales. He rose to be a literature professor at Cambridge.
E.P Thompson. thompson became a history professor at the University of Warwick writin many influential social history books such as The Making of the Working Class in Britain as well as become a leading anti-nuclear campaigner.
Professor Stuart Hall. A Director of The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Birmingham and then Professor of Sociology at the Open University
These people were later joined by Stuart Hall who was a Rhodes Scholar. After running the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies based at the University of Birmingham he became professor of sociology at the Open University.
These scholars and activists between them made a hugely important contribution to British post-war thought and society and have spawned many more important thinkers, scholars and teachers who are now themselves professors of Cultural Studies or media related subjects.
Cultural Studies Courses in the UK 2009
University of Warwick Centre for Lifelong Learning
Warwick University Centre for Lifelong Learning is offering either part-time day / evening routes for a BA in English and Cultural Studies or else full time course can be undertaken. Introductory modules in English and Cultural Studies are offered by the Departments of Film and TV Studies, History, Classics, Italian, History of Art and the Language Centre.
Day and Evening Study
It is possible to take the English and Cultural Studies degree on the basis of either day or evening study, or as a mixture of the two. Each year the English department offers a full range of modules in the day and a selection on rotation in the evening so students may choose when to study. The Language Centre offers modules for part-time degree students in the day and in the evening. Film and TV Studies, and Classics offer a small number of modules in the evening and History has a good range of evening modules. History of Art, German French and Italian offer modules only in the day-time.
There are no prescribed entry qualifications for the degree; all applicants are normally interviewed by the academic co-ordinator in the Department of English. The academic co-ordinator will look for evidence of academic ability and commitment and, in addition, for evidence of serious interest in the study of literature. This evidence might be obtained from study of literature in an Access course, 'A' Level course, Warwick University Open Studies course or a less formal engagement with literature.
Please Note: The Kinoeye blog is in existence because of the author's connection to the Centre for Lifelong Learning. There is not going to be a pretense at impartiality for an institution which I think offers an excellent service to students and is making high quality education available to all who live within reasonable travelling distance. For those people who don't feel that they can afford to take a degree after leaving college with A levels this is an excellent way of continuing your education in a way which is financially manageable.
For those interested click on the image for the official page or contact: Flexible Courses Manager - 024 7652 8100
All too often Media Studies can be dehistoricised yet a perception of the history and development of cultural studies including media cultures is very important. This degree provides an opportunity to develop historical knowledge and skills alongside the important skills of textual analysis which can be provided within the Department of Film & TV Studies. A wide range of departments contribute to this course and again broad-based thinking and mental flexibility are advantageous.
For those A level students who enjoy aspects of social and critical research offered on a level media studies there are several areas here with which you might have started to become familiar. I have highlighted these.
This elective Specialism offers you the opportunity to develop a critical understanding of cultural practices and identities in everyday life, including how they are shaped by, and shape the social world. Particular aspects of culture are examined, auch as news media, photography, fiction, aesthetics of the body, and particular methods are taught, including the production and interpretation of visual imagery, memoi and fiction, and media reportage. This combination of understanding and skills acquisition is further pursued through a dissertation in cultural studies.
In Year One, you must take Sociological Imagination and Investigation and Media Sociology.
In Year Two, you must choose one of the following: Gender, Culture and Popular Media; Narratives of Disease, Death and Difference: The Sociology of Story; Visual Sociology; The Social Construction of Masculinities.
In Year Three, you must choose from one of the following, providing that the module has not already been taken: Narratives of Disease, Death and Difference: The Sociology of Story; Technologies of the Gendered Body; The Social Construction of Maculinities; Visual Sociology. In Year Three, you will undertake a dissertation in this area.
Although a very new university there has been an impressive investment in getting well established staff and good resources. This type of degree provides an excellent range of opportunities to flexibly minded students who have A level media amongst thier qualifications.
In recent years Sunderland University has been gathering momentum and offers an excellent range of courses within its school of Art , Design, Media and Culture. This is how it describes what is on offer:
It is an exciting and important area with a very broad range of approaches. You will be able to select from a wide range of texts and practices including popular music, reality TV, cyberculture, and black popular culture, as well as Hollywood cinema. It also offers an exploration into institutions, sexual cultures, star systems, and celebrity culture, as well as audiences and sub-cultures.
Audience Studies in Media
This article briefly examines some of the main ways in which media studies has researched audiences rather than institutions or the texts themselves. In this sense media has many dimensions which might require different research methods in order to generate maeningful knowledge. The areas of research covered are the construction of the pessimistic notion of 'mass audiences', the construction of audiences as market by market researchers, reception theory and ethnographic research approaches.
Audiences as "Mass"
The media has usually been associated automatically with the process of mass communication. As Ien Ang has pointed out the concet of "mass" audience was particularly powerful in the first half of the 20th century. This is unsurprising as the new media technologies of the time, film, radio and then TV became extraordinarily popular very quickly. This was so much so that the boom in radio shares in the United States helped create the stock market 'bubble' which lead to the Great Crash of 1929. Many readers will be familiar with another media lead stock market buble the so-called "dot.com" bubble which lead to a severe "correction" in the stock market although a full scale crash was avoided.
The underlying logic of these bubbles was based upon perceptions of audience and mass markets which shows how the two terms overlap. Sociologists of the time such as Blumler in 1950 saw the rapid growth in media audiences as part of what became dubbed as "mass society". Audiences were conceived of as "masses" who absorbed "mass culture". There was an underlying implication that it was very much "passive" uncritical absorbtion of the content which was produced.
Blumler who was a powerful influence in creating the model of audiences at the time described the concept of "mass" in the following way:
- Firstly: Its membership may come from all walks of life. This could include people from different classes and cultural and economic backgrounds.
- Secondly: The mass is anonymous, being composed of "anonymous" individuals
- Thirdly: There was little or no interaction or exchange between the mebers of these "masses". Unlike the crowd in the street they do not mill
- Fourthly:The mass has no real organisation and is unable to act with the unity of a crowd.
Although this was meant to be a purely descriptive evaluation of media audiences as Ang points out:
...it is surrounded by many additional, evaluative meanings that are usually very negative (Ang questioning the Media first Edition p 157)
The negativity behind this model saw older concepts of civil society which helped people understand and contribute to the social world embedded in community and institutions like the church being weakened. Audiences were seen as passive, individualised or atomised taken out of thier social surroundings and therefore easily manipulated. Many people media theorists included thought that this situation left audiences totally exposed to the ideas transmitted by the mass media. This was particularly the case with popular forms of media such as films, TV and radio. this lead to what has been dubbed as the 'Hypodermic Needle' theory. This is a medical metaphor which relates to the power of doctors over helpless patients and assumes complete power over the individual, which soon leads us into another medical metaphor of "brain-washing".
Audiences as "Market"
The argument put forward by Ang seems increasingly outdated as globalisation and the accompanying commercialisation and consumer orientation deepen alongside the effects of digitisation and the Web. Ang points out that perceiving audiences as markets comes from this commercial context and is very much an American tradition compared with the Public Service Broadcasting ethos that has been prevalent in Britian and much of Europe until comparatively recently. Of course Ang also points out that audiences are seen as potential consumers for the goods and services advertised. One need go no further than lifestyle magazines such as GQ to see just how much that magazine is an almost total vehicle for advertising and integrally generating an ethos of consumption. The content and appraoch of these magazines is very much influneced by organisations such as ACORN. Companies like these exercise a lot of power in creating markets for goods and services by constructing an increasingly sophisticated range of categories, to fit in with more diverse lifestyle and identities.
See How ACORN assesses the area you live in:
upmystreet. You will neeed to type in your postcode.
Ang bases her criticisms upon the fact that the research methods used were quanitative ones just focusing on TV sets that were turned on and tuned in. This entirely ignored the subjective and qualitative elements of audience experiences. Cetainly we do not view ourselves as a 'market', we are however constructed as a part of a market. With the increasing fragmentation of audiences into a wide range of media forms and even user genersated content models of exactly what constitutes an audience are necessarily having to change. Nevertheless in an "On Demand" era of media (What you want when you want it where you want it) and the necessity to either produce a profit or provide clear value for money from PSB shows how sophisticaed the relationship between audience / market and the providers of media content / user generated content vehicles (MySpace etc) is.
Contemporary Online Media Targeting Audience
The BBC Online News Service is a good example of how contemporary media institutions are adapting to the changing parameters of media because of digitisation and the expontential growth of the internet. The BBC has always aimed to have a global audience because it developed as an institution in the waning days of the British Empire which until the post war era still controlled more land mass than any other country. The use of the World Service partially funded by the Foreign Office was the main arm for this global extension. In the era of globalisation the importance of media is still fundamental. The following is an extract of how the BBC can use its size and depth of experience to address different audiences by place / location whilst providing a much more sophisticated service to all users. The service is backed by the BBCs renowned aims and objectives of trying to report in a fair manner. As such for those detractors of pub;lic service broadcasting and the TV Licence fee need to think about the service being rendered by the BBC in providing better quality news well outside of the countries national borders. The BBC explains their policy below:
The BBC News website is published in two versions - one for the UK and the other for international audiences. First time users to the site will be automatically directed to the version based on their geographical location. In this way BBC News can offer a more relevant selection of headlines. (BBC News Website)
Uses & Gratifications Theory
Uses and Gratifications theory takes quite a different pespective when it comes to creating a model of what audiences are about. rather than people being engaged passively in a mindless pastime uses and gratifications theory considers that people's use of the media is very selective and needs prior motivation. The theory became named in this way because it is expected that using the media in a chosen way will offer some gratifications. These will satisfy social and psychological needs of the individuals concerned.
Research Methods of Uses and Gratifications Theory
The research tends to be very empirically based. Usually audience members are asked to fill in questionnaires about why they watch / listen to / use particular programs or media forms. Ang (ibid p 1590 reports upon Dennis McQuail who was a researcher using these methods over several years. McQuail came to the conclusion that there were four main categories into which people's reasons for consuming certain media formats fell:
Information: Finding out about aspects of the world and society. Driven by curiosity, learning and interest
Personal Identity: Finding reinforcement for personal values, finding out about models of behaviour, identifying with others important in the lives of the individual concerned, reflexivity or gaining knowledge and insight into the self
Integration and Social Interaction: Useful for a basis of conversation, helping to perform social roles, developing insights into the position of other people, developing a sense of belonging
Entertainment: Distraction from problems of everyday life, general relaxation, cultural and aesthetic pleasure, passing the time, emotional release, sexual arousal.
Common Criticisms of Uses and Gratifications Theory
One problem is the individualistic approach taken. The possibility that people are consuming media within specific social contexts is sidelined. Some people may have to endure aspects of media because it is forced upon them. Visiting a house with the TV on may mean that the conversation is circumscribed because some people like TV on all the time.
Reception Analysis /Interpretive Communites / Subcultures
Reception analysis researchs how audiences interpret media products which they define as "texts". This can be applied from any media product from the Financial Times to Grand Theft Auto. The key point here is that audiences are understood to be producers of meaning not merely consumers
Ang (p160-1) notes that researchers interest:
...is directed not to the individual ways in which people make sense of such a text, but to social meanings, that is, meanings that are culturally shared.
The term interpretive communities has developed to describe how groups of people make common interpretations of particular texts. An interpretive community does not have to be located in any specific place but the symbolical connection around a cultural text is a form of social space.
In general what reception researchers aim to uncover is how people in their own social and historical contexts make sense of all kinds of media texts in ways that are meaningful, suitable, and accessible to them. (Ang ibid p 161)
Media in Everyday Life
In recent years there has been a growth in the analysis and researching the practices of everyday life or the quotidian. The French theorist Henri Lefebvre was one of the first people to do this. After him another important theorist was Michel de Certau. Obviously the relationship and interactions between people and how they use and relate to media in their everyday lives is very important to this area of study. The media theorist Roger Silverstone has commented upon how media contributes to people's sense of being or social ontology by contributing to aspects of the everyday which make life familiar and predictable. Media can play an important part in this as part of a symbolic system underpinning everyday life:
Ontological security is sustained through the familiar and the predictable...The symbols of daily life: the everyday sights and sounds of natural language and familiar culture; the publicly broadcast media texts on billboards, in newspapers on television...
Ang notes the conclusions of researcher Herman Bausinger in 1984 who had spent a long time observing German families in their homes. He came to some key conclusions which need to be kept in mind when examining the role of the media in the everyday:
- Many media forms are used by people throughout the day and this 'media ensemble' neds to be taken into account
- People rarely fully concentrate on the media they are relating to at any given momnent
- The media are an integral part of the everyday rhythms and routines of life
- Media use is not an isolated process but a social one with individuals often interacting with others whilst absorbing a media text
This type of approach to media is in many ways the most promising one of the ideas elaborated at least from the perspective of understand the interaction of people with media in the construction of their social and cultural worlds. This type of research method is described as ethnographic in which the fine-grained detail of everyday life can be observed and interpreted. Naturally this is a very different emphasis from those seeking to create target audience for the sale of media products. There has been useful work done by researchers like Ann Gray into issues of gender and media use in the home in her work Video Playtime
Ang, Ien. 'The Nature of the Audience'. In Downing et al. 1994. Questioning the Media. London: Sage
Silverstone Roger. 1994. Television and Everyday Life. London: Routledge
May 29, 2008
Film Studies Degrees in the UK
With one of my roles being to help guide students towards suitable courses in content, delivery and and facilities I have decided to create this posting to help future students currently applying for UCAS to gain from current student experiences. This will help to formulate good penetrating and critical questions at open days and interviews. With undergraduate degrees getting gradually more expensive it is very important for potential students to make the right choices.
Some of this is down to careful choosing of degree courses to apply to by sixth-formers. There is little point in applying to film studies courses in universities such as Warwick or King's College London which emphasise a strong academic and theoretical approach, if you want to make films. Hands on moving image making courses which combine some theory with a lot of hands-on practice are likely to be better for some people. But don't fall into the old trap of dividing theory and practice. Often you find lecturers pointing out that the best practitioners are also good at the theoretical material. This is known as praxis. It is worth considering the point that these more practically oriented courses are often less demanding when it comes to A level grades.
Why is this? Not all courses translate into the same future earnings power. With the costs of higher education now being placed on the student you need to take a value for money approach to courses. Will the course you are thinking about get you a career that will pay back your loan and get you settled into life in the future in a comfortable way. It is up to the University you are applying to to provide solid evidence of this. Look for good quality careers guidance on sites which are offering courses you like the look of. University of Warwick has a specialist careers adviser working on Arts and Cultural Management and Media. There is a web page of careers advice and relevant links provided for registered students. University of Kent also has a helpful page (see link in the Webliography). You also need to be thinking about two key issues:
- What the other students attitudes are like. Are they going to be aspirational and want to get on?
- If many people think that these courses are easier are you going to have such good career prospects?
Remember decisions you take now can stay with you a long time. If you have doubts about the course better to leave going to university for a year and improve your grades so that you get into a course that you are more confidant will deliver what you need. Remember you are looking for a qualification that will suit you in 40 years time as you progress throughout your life. But remember sometimes you can't progress beyond a certain point if you don't have the necessary qualifications and underlying skills that go with these. The higher level skills of synthesis and analysis that go with that more 'academic' qualification will get you further in life. More academic approaches which can seem more distanced to begin with can get you further. These higher level skills make sure that you are more flexible within the labour market. No pain no gain! They are part of what the social theorist Bourdieu called cultural capital. Make sure you get plenty of this in the CV bank. If you need some practical skills you can always collect them later on, and many you can familiarise yourself with in your own time. The amount of material on YouTube proves how many people are doing just this.
Undergraduate Degrees Only
Please note the list of film studies courses linked at the top of tis entry above only refers to universities offering undergraduate degrees. There are a vast range of postgraduate degrees available. The needs of postgraduate students are usually quite different to undergraduates and the experience of undergraduate work allows potential postgraduates a chance to make more informed choices. This is a point made well by the Guardian in its 2009 University Entry Guide published on May 13th:
Our aim is to provide a guide for first-time students. That means we concentrate on teaching and not research ratings, which count heavily in other league tables. A postgraduate guide might look very different. (How to Read the League Tables: Guardian)
The list of courses above is not a critical one and makes no comments on the content of courses or upon the quality of delivery. With Universities increasingly needing to attract new students and retain those that they have recruited there is a lot of competition between them for the best students. Recently the Times has run stories of how Kingston University has been encouraging their students to give really high quality feedback about their experiences. This will improve their ratings and push them up the league tables. This story is about Southampton Solent from a few years ago. It should be noted that this is no sense a comment on the current state of affairs at the university, it does emphasise the importance of being aware of what is going on in the course you are applying to.
Problems of Costs and Time While Doing a Course
Remember too, it is now possible for people to study for part-time degrees. This means that you can work or do something else as well. The Open University is a good place to look for starters. Various Film and Media studies courses can be taken there.
Film Studies Joint or Interdisciplinary Degrees
Some Universities offer just film studies courses but they can be part of a joint honours degree programme which might include History, Sociology, Art History, Geography, Italian, French, English, German, American Studies, Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Latin American Studies, European Studies Drama, Hispanic Studies etc.
Depending on the nature of your degree the list below provides you with a lot of popular options for career choices which involve films and cinema:
- Arts Administrator
- Cinema Manager
- Cinema Programmer
- Editorial Assistant
- Film & Media Policy Development
- Film Festival Organiser
- Film/Video Producer
- Information Assistant
- Librarian, Special/Academic
- Media Planner
- Picture Researcher
- Presenter TV/Radio
- Teacher (HE/FE)
- Television Researcher
- University Teacher
Organisations which Employ Film Studies Graduates include:
- Advertising/Marketing organisations
- Arts Organisations - national & regional
- Civil Service Departments
- Commercial Galleries
- Craft & Design Institutions
- Film/Television production companies
Thinking of doing a Masters Degree in film afterwards? Check this Guardian brief guide
Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware!
You take a lot of time to choose a mobile phone or an item or some clothing so take time to consider carefully what it is you want from a film studies degree. A degree cost a lot, if you do the right one it is well worth it, just make sure you choose well and don't be rushed. Better to wait a year and improve the grades and go to the right one. Can all universities legitimately make the claim that this unamed one does on its website:
So whether you’re passionate about investigating film, or gaining hands on opportunities to express yourself creatively, our degree in Film Studies is the right choice for you.
Marketing blurb is marketing blurb. Learn to read between the lines and try and talk to students who are prepared to be constructively critical. There is little point in speaking to somebody who whinges all the time they are probably a loser! Nobody is interested in offering a bad course, the key issue is suitability. Thinking about courses gets you to think about yourself.
This will be updated from time to time with useful links to recent articles about film / media studies in the UK
Melanie Newman: Good or bad taste - it's in the can. 11 May 2007 THES
The Fulbright Commission film and Media Studies Courses. With the pound at a good rate against the dollar course in the US might be worth thinking about. This pdf is from 2005 and the prices will need updating.
The BFI Media and MultiMedia Course Directory looks a very useful first stop
The What Uni site for Film Studies which uses student ratings with some explanations when you click on the initial comments. As the one I looked at was universally positive it may be better to use some salt! People don't tend to knock what they have committed to for a long time. Use these sort of things as methods of extracting some useful questions to ask when you visit and shortlist institutions.
May 27, 2008
Unseen Europe Hub Page
Introduction: Europe as a Cultural Project
My courses and research projects in general have been to explore developments in European cinema in the five main industrial countries of Europe in the 20th and now 21st centuries. These countries are Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. This project is based upon a SPECT approach (Social / Political / Economic / Cultural / Textual). This project is of necessity open ended but it is envisaged as part of a necessary cultural project in the interests of developing notions of cultural citizenship and aspects of representation which go far beyond the limitations of instrumentalised commercialism.
This approach excludes a rich and diverse cinematic heritage which extends from Iceland to Poland via Sweden, Finland and Estonia and through Denmark, Holland and Belgium. I have therefore decided to slowly develop what I'm describing as 'The Unseen Europe' as films from smaller countries have severe difficulties in gaining the audience they often deserve.
The European Union is now 26 countries and 26 rich cultural heritages which overlap and inform each other historically. At this time when the sense of direction of what Europe actually is and what it might become is uncertain - because of the rejection by the voters in France and Holland of closer constitutional ties - it is important to prioritise the cultural aspects of these diverse 'nations'.
This cinema is not a cinema concerned primarily with stars and the paraphernalia of commercialism. It is more of an 'art' cinema in the sense of those involved following their individual projects often with the director linked to the production crews and scriptwriters. This is an auteur cinema which people should be proud of. It is a powerful visual heritage which is likely to be remembered and revisted by many in the fullness of time. It is a cinema which will gradually become canonical. These are sentiments and visions which go beyond the 'postmodern' in the sense that one isn't judgemental about the content or targeted audience of a media text. This is to say the content of texts is important and not always easy to deal with. It can make audiences uncomfortable and is frequently challenging in many different ways.
Europe will not become a coherent entity unless it develops a culture which develops both an overarching pan-Europeanism and at the same time is celebratory of difference. This is a tall order and there is no historical precedent for this for the senses of nationhood and national identity are often deeply embedded. At the same time there is a desire for something greater which goes beyond Europe's history of repressive empires all of which came tumbling down either during or in the aftermath of the European 30 years war of the 20th century. The mayhem and carnage following the breakup of Yugoslavia is a salutary lesson about the primacy of the cultural within identity politics.
The importance of Europe as a cultural project rather than a political and economic convenience cannot be overstated if Europe is to become something other than a simple confederation of mainly economically linked countries with regulatory directives to control the worst excesses of capitalism.
In Britain at least, it is very hard to see a good range of films which represent aspects of British life leave alone 'sub-titled' films which deal with historical and national themes which are probably unfamiliar, yet cinema is a great way to learn about and share cultural experiences. Currently DVDs and the occasional TV film are one of the few ways a British audience can learn about other aspects of European culture. Usefully in the UK the government is exerting pressure on TV companies like the BBC to spend more of its film budget on non-Hollywood films although the pressure is on to spend it on british films.
For these reasons it is intended that this blog will gradually develop this page providing resource links relating to directors and national cinemas outside of the 'Big Five'. The first posting has been a resources page on the work of Theo Angelopoulos the celebrated Greek director.
Why Angelopoulos? Well this probably has something to do with spending some time over the last two summers in the Greek Islands. There is a surprise serendiptious memory of our 2006 trip to Koufanissia. On our return ferry jouney a woman and her 9 year old daughter sat next to us. She was a solicitor from Cyprus who had trained in the UK and was a member of the film club in Nicosia. We had a fine discussion about European cinema and the experience was a reminder of the cultural homogeneities which link the countries of Europe in surprising ways as we celebrated the excellent film making of Kieslowski for example. Cultural differences between Greece and Britain, indeed Northern Europe are fascinating yet Europe looks to the Greek city states as the Political and cultural crucible of contemporary Europe.
This is a developing page which will eventually provide links to a wide range of National and European-wide film institutions
Being a small country physically and in population it is of course very hard to develop a thriving film industry because it is such an industrial process which frequently demands high budgets to pay known stars and have a large budget. Even the art-house circuit in the UK at least is increasingly constrained by commercial imperatives (financial targets) rather than cultural benefits which are often unquantifiable. In the middle of the 1990s following near financial collapse in the transitional period from Soviet rule Lithuania could not even afford to make a single film from its cultural budget despite the EU being prepared to underwrite 50% of the costs. However when one visited a museum in those times not only was there a charge (relatively little for a foreigner in terms of real income) but somebody would follow you around turning the lights off and on to save power.
Bradford Film Festival showed several new Lithuanian films in 2005. This programme of Lithuanian films was a first, not just in the UK but also outside of Lithuania. The festival was part of a whole cultural exchange project Visions of Yorskhire and Vilnius.
Lithuania Sociology Magazine Sociumas examines the prospects for Lithuanian cinema.
Isabelle Huppert in Joachim Lafosse's Private Property
This is a piece which is part of the 'Unseen Europe' section of the Kinoeye Blog. Despite efforts by the European Union to encourage the cinematic representation of all its members the industrial and commercial nature of cinema vitiates its long-term health as an art form. Lack of marketing power and only weak exhibitionary systems mean that many interesting European films are never seen in the cinema, or only very briefly. These articles are meant to direct interested visitors to some of these films and any web discourse which helps contextualise them.
Biography of Chantal Ackerman : From the Deutsche Film Institute
Toute une nuit (1982) YouTube extract below:
The Dardenne Brothers
The Dardennes Bros with their best screenplay award Cannes 2008 for La Silence de Lorna
In 1999 Rosetta by the Dardenne Brothers wins Palme d'Or at Cannes
In 2005 L'enfant by the Dardenne Brothers won the Palme d'Or at Cannes
Film Philosophy Review by Joseph Mai of a book on the Dardenne Bros
La Silence de Lorna (2008) by the Dardenne Bros. YouTube extract below. It won the prize for best screenplay in the 2008 Cannes Festival
Romney 2008 on: The Silence of Lorna
Weight of Water. Sight and Sound Article April 2006 by Johnathan Romney on the Dardenne Brothers
Rosetta. Sight and Sound Review March 2000 by Lizzie Francke
Independent: Sheila Johnstone on Secret of Dardennes Bros Success
Private Property (2006). Sight & Sound May 2008 review by Ginette Vincendeau
May 25, 2008
The Good German
I don't stray much into Hollywood (well American independent) territory at present, however, a cheap deal on The Good German (Soderbergh 2006) tempted me. The film was worth its £5-00 although I wouldn't rate it as brilliant but well worth seeing. The mise en scene seemed to be a straight derivation of Rossellini's Germany Year Zero combined with Carol Reed's The Third Man. There were also shades of Michael Curtiz's Casablanca. This tells us a lot about the aspirations of the film, however, setting itself against these standards the film was very unlikely to excel. These sort of judgements are relative after all and I have found that, despite any shortcomings measured against the iconic films of the 20th century referred to above, the film leaves a reflective viewer with much to think about. Other films that contain a melancholic air of mystery, in a Berlin in which nothing and nobody are quite as they seem are 1960s spy-thrillers such as The Quiller Memorandum. Although although shot in colour Soderbergh seeks a mise en scene that is downcast and dirty like that of The Good German which is shot in black and white.
Shooting in black and white is a deliberate aesthetic device which, for a film literate audience many of whom have seen documentary footage from the time, is probably a more effective way of being placed in that time period than shooting in colour. The device serves to heighten the reality effect of the film in a way reminiscent of Spielberg's Shindler. The film is very auteurist in the sense that Soderberg did his own cinematography and editing as well with the film's credits to Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard being pseudonyms. According to the Guardian DVD release review the film 'tanked':
The Good German tanked about as badly as it's possible to tank (from an estimated $32m budget, it brought in $1.2m in the US). (Rob Mackie The Guardian Nov 2007)
I think it is a pity it didn't do well. Flawed it might be but given the amount of real rubbish that people spend their time watching this film rates. When it comes to getting into the pantheons of the great, better to have tried but failed than not tried at all. This film raises underlying issues about society which Rossellini, Carol Reed nor Curtiz managed; that alone makes it worth seeing.
Cate Blanchett put in a memorable performance although sometimes I felt her accent didn't quite hold together. The film's aesthetics were generally very good and the use of the chiaoscuro lighting worked very effectively. Many would attribute this style to 'film noir' although of course both German and French films pre-war used this type of lighting a lot. The Times online review is a classic fudge in this respect. The reviewer specifically denies the core political issues underlying the film and tries to critique the film as a bad rehash of a "film noir", a category which primarily exists in the eyes of a certain group of critics in any case. This is the sort of bad reviewing which one might expect from a Murdoch paid hack in thrall to the status quo. Although the Channel 4 review is considerably better, it too sees the film in a hackneyed way as a 'film noir' to describe the category.
I largely agree with the estimates of the performances from Erica Abeel writing an insightful review in Film Journal International. Like her I initially felt that the Clooney character didn't quite gel and lacked the necessary deep erotically driven obsession required by the part. Perhaps our view of how Clooney should have played the part is highly romanticised in relation to The Third Man and Casablanca. Perhaps the direction of Clooney is precisely to show up to audience their dependency upon conventions of romance. Only when Lena declares that she wants to make love with Geismer does the audinece understand that the pre-war relationship really had extremely powerful erotic resonances. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be like Casablanca after all? In Abeel's suggestion that Tobey Mcguire was a serious miscasting error to play the deeply unpleasant Tully rather missed the point. Precisely because nothing in Berlin was as it seems allows the typecasting of Hollywood genredom to be broken. Because Lena saw in him a 'boy' just like her husband, the innocent looks of McGuire provide an explanation of Lena putting up with him albeit to further her own agenda.
Lena Brandt shouldn't be associated with the notion of the 'femme fatale' - at least one blog has- certainly she is the object of desire for Clooney who leads him to put himself into danger. His desire also put him into conflict with the wishes of authority. These aspects don't make her a femme fatale as such. Arguably her character functions as a trope for a Berlin which is entirely different to the prewar Berlin of Geismer's experience. Lena Brandt doesn't evince any interest in Geismer, and her determination to achieve her aim would go up to the point of shooting him. The scene in which she pulls a gun on Geismer is underpinned by a change in the diegetic sound track for the audience to experience her thoughts as she makes her way down sewers towards her husband, who we are about to see for the first time in the film approximately three quarters of the way through. This is an excellent aesthetic device and well handled, as an audience we are convinced that this is a very different Lena from the one that Geismer knew prior to the war. This shift to interiority is unusual and as a device moves the audience into the realm of the subjugated female voice which is unable to tell its tale out loud. This is hardly traditional femme fatale territory. For the knowing audience too who might wish to think about the gun scene as a 'pastiche' of Phyllis Dietrichson shooting Neff (Double Indemnity), worth remembering that Phyllis couldn't finish the job. This interiority tells the audience that Lena is on a mission and would shoot Geismer.
The occasional sceptical comment has been made about redemption, yet this is what the core motivation for Lena was. It was her raison d'etre, were she simply a survivor she could have easily left Berlin, but in a psychoanalytical way this characterisation was right. Whilst apparently some audiences took the line 'It is impossible to leave Berlin' as an overpompous statement the fact that the film exists at all and creates resonances tells us something about the position of Berlin as a city at a synechdochal and mythical level. What has easily been dismissed as pastiche by 'knowing' audiences might be an artistic flaw but in terms of the underlying meaning perhaps shouldn't be quite so quickly dismissed.
My own doubts about aspects of authenticity within the film relate to the prewar experiences of Geismer and Lena Brandt. What held to to Berlin at a time when she might have been still able to get out. After all until 1938 the emphasis of the Nazis was one of pushing Jews out of the country rather than mass extermination. Given that she was in an adulterous relationship with Geismer at the time justified by Geismer on the grounds that the husband was hardly ever around what was the nature of the relationship with the husband. Given that Geismer was of Jewish extraction surely these issues would have been discussed at the time?
Films set in Berlin frequently use the sewers and the underground as a spatial trope to express the subterranean desires, activities and practices in post-war Berlin. Here Lena Brandt is making her way towards her husband's hideout.
Edward Dimendberg is concerned with examining the representation of spatial relationships of the city within 'Film Noir'. He particularly focuses upon the constructions and representations of centrifugal and centripetal space. However these spatial representations don't really seem to work with films that are better charactersied as 'Rubble films', where the breakdown of the precepts of modernity and the need to re-establish this discourse is of primary concern. Taking this architectural / geographical discourse into account allows us to think of The Good German as separate from but linked to the critical construction 'Film Noir' tempting though it is to entirely conflate it with 'noir'. These rubble films certainly introduce 'the tensions permeating centripetal space' (Dimendberg p 91), the centrifugal though is associated with the powers and tensions of the state at the international level which will eventually lead to the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1949 and the establishing of the Berlin Wall which became a synechdoche of the 'Cold War'. The subterranean spaces of the 'rubble film' need to be worked into a fuller analysis of the spatial representations of modernity.
The Viennese sewers in The Third Man offering quite literally underground networks of crime and transitions betwen differetn sectors of the city. In 1945 Vienna too was an internationally run city between the American, British, French and of course the Soviets.
At times the sets seemed a little too artificial, such as the high angle shot of the airport strip at the end where all the crates seemed just a little too perfet and things smacked of CGI. Rossellini's Germany Year Zero shot in Berlin a few months after the setting of this film (which was July 1945) had a certain dustinesss to it.
Soderbergh makes great play of restricting himself to camera lenses and equipment of the day. This means The Good German unspools with the requisite one camera set-ups, screen wipes, even the flickering, linking archive clips it would have utilized had it been made in 1945, rather than just set then. (Channel 4 Review)
At times there was a visual contrast between the archive footage and the modern set footage. For example when Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) pulls a gun on Geismer (George Clooney) and there is a low angle shot which shows a clouded sky through a shell or bomb hole in the roof of the building. There was something which was too carefully constructed about this.
The film raised two especially interesting issues. Firstly it was a clear political attack on the US and its preparedness to cover up certain issues in order to gain superiority in any forthcoming arms race. The fact was that Geismer had been unwittingly brought to Berlin to help the Americans track down Lena Brandt with the hope that she would lead Geismer and then them too the whereabouts of her husband Emil Brandt who they wished to eliminate.
Geismer with the driver he has been assigned called Tully (Tobey McGuire) meet Lena Brandt in a Bar. Tully is a convincingly unpleasant amoral opportunist who is Brandt's current lover. Unbeknownst to Tully Geismer and Brandt had a relationship prior to the war.
The film is a conspiracy type of thriller which has a political message that contradicts most of the films within this genre. These usually pit an able but näif hero against some mavericks within the system (the Bourne series for example). The hero with the help of an insider who upholds the true value of the constitution eventually manages to defeat the mavericks who become power obsessed.
Here the 'mavericks' were the most powerful people in the country and they were determined to get their way. It was made clear that the future next hundred years was what was being played for as the high stake Potsdam treaty discussions unfurl in the background. Soderbergh's film raises the question of how much Nazi activity was engaged in by the scientists on the advanced nuclear and rocket weapons programmes, and as a concommittent how far America was prepared to sweep history under the carpet for the sake of gaining the expertise for its own postwar weapons programme.
A futher question which is raised by the film is jsut how much we should be judgemental of those Jews who ended up collaborating with the Nazi programme in order to save their own skins (quite literally). The denouement at the very end Lina finally admits the awful secret she has been hiding from Geismer, however Clooney had to press her to get her to admit it. He wouldn't have done this without Bernie (Leland Orsner) having pointed out that what was in her file could have her put away for life in terms of crimes against humanity. But in a world where everybody is feverishly following their own agendas, love intersts, money, reasons of state regardless of any attempt to stick to moral codes is Geismer's moral judgementalism fully justified or should we be looking to "the mote in our own eyes"?
Soderberg's The Good German certainly provides food for thought. It raises questions of moral ambivalence, questions of loyalty, truth and morality when the traditional mores of society have been broken down by war and the complete breakdown of civil society where the rule of law needs to be re-established and become respected. In this sense a contemporary reader could apply the situation to post-Saddam Iraq as much as to Berlin, but that conflict will doubtless generate its own specific stories in due course.
Dealing with the film it gradually dawning on me just how important the representations of Berlin in film are within a Western consciousness. Whether it is the pre-war Berlin of Joe May or Fritz Lang, the post-war Berlin of Rossellini, Le Carré there is a human geography of fragmentation, displacement, division, disillusion, ambivalence and masquerade in which Berlin has become a key synedoche. If somebody isn't doing a PhD on this very subject they ought to be!
Dimendberg Edward 2004. Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity. Cambridge (Mass) Harvard University Press.
Pierre Bourdieu is perhaps best known in this country for his work on the concept of cultural capital. Work on Bourdieu and class appears on pp 76-77 of book 2 Social Differences and Divisions.
Here is a definition of cultural capital by Mike Savage:
By being based around abstraction, cultural capital bestows upon its possessors the skills and attributes to perform well in the educational process and hence convert their dispositions into educational credentials that will allow them to move into privileged jobs. thus cultural capital allows people to sustain social advantage. It is a separate axis of stratification to economic capital. (Savage. 2002. 'Social Exclusion and Class Analysis' p 77)
On page 78 Savage has extracted the work of Warde studying food consumption in the UK based upon a Bourdieu derived analysis of cultural capital. Warde shows that food consumption has a high degree of consistency over social class and is not just related to income. As Savage points out on p 79 small industrial and commercial employers have similar food tastes to those of thier employees. These differ quite radically from those of the professional classes. You might wish to mae a note of a couple of figures so that you can cite them as examples of the uses of quantitative research in identifying aspects of class.
Savage points out that the concept of cultural capital is different from Weber's notions of status. Status refers to honour / dishonour. Cultural capital involves the inculcation of certain skills and abilities even though they may not be aware of this. Status must be recognised otherwise the status function is lost. Cultural capital on the other hand is frequently at its most effective when it is misrecognised.
For Bourdieu because 'high culture' takes on the position of being universal culture rather than the culture of the ruling elites it thus sustains the power and privileges of the ruling elite. in food consumption for example eating more fresh fruit and vegetables is deemed as being healthier and something that everybody should aspire to as a universal ideal. This approach ignores the class basis of food consumption.
Habitus & Field (See p 81)
Savage also touches upon two other important aspects of Bourdieu's work habitus and field.
Habitus can be described as the internalised, usually unconscious points of view which people hold. These dispositions have the effect of making people feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in different social circumstances. As a result they try and situate themselves within the fields in which they feel most comfortable. Bourdieu notes the idea of pre-reflexive fields and reflexive fields. The latter is less dependent upon money and more upon the ability to function reflexively within powerful institutions which organise the economy and the state. Non-reflexive fields may allow a social actor to accumulate excellent skills such as playing professional football and can earn large amounts of money. But even thebest paid are limited in what they can achieve. They are usually not able to move into other fields and for those not at the top of a sport this can be a problem in later life if sufficient economic capital is not built up.
May 24, 2008
Toennies is best known for his concepts of Gemeinschaft & Gesellschaft.
Gemeinschaft is associated with close-knit communities which are more feudal or semi-feudal in their social relationships. They are in other words pre-industrial.
Gesellschaft by comparison can be associated with the more distanced social relationships between people in a city despite their physical closeness to each other.
The trailer below is from the Italian film Rocco and His Brothers by Luchino Visconti. Several of Visconti's films explored the tensions developing within Italy as it modernised after the Second World War. Peasant families from the mezzogiorno (deep south) migrated to the rapidly growing industrial cities of Milma and Turin. Visconti's film follows the trials and tribulations of just such a peasant family from the deep south. The film opens with the train arriving in Milan where they expect to meet the eldest brother who has gone on ahead. The family can no longer make a living from the land and they must find work and shelter.
Simone takes up boxing a fairly typical thing to do, and as he becomes more dissolute Rocco takes over being a boxer to pay off Simone's debts. Another brother goes to night school and eventually becomes a skilled worker in the Alfa Romeo factory. His understanding is that hard work and social solidarity in the unions is the way to survive this new environment. The plot gets complicated as firstly Simone has a relationship with Nadia who is also an immigrant and makes a living through prostitution. As simone goes downhill Nadia leaves him. A couple of years later Rocco who had to do national srvice takes up with her: they are both very much in love, yet ultimately Rocco betrays her because he cannot throw over the patriarchal ifeology that the family must be protected at all costs. This is in spite of Simone raping Nadia in front of his brother who is being restrained by Simone's friends. Eventually Nadia is murdered by Simone and it is another brother who recognises that the rule of law is above family and calls the police. Gesellschaft has triumphed over Gemeinscaft which is shown up as being regpressive and regressive.
There are many features of the change to modernity which are effectively tackled in this film and representations of class and the growing industrial city are all involved. This film shows very well the effects of the growth of industrialism creating flows of labour into the city and the problems immigrants have in adapting. For a range of contemporary British films that have been representing some of thes concerns in today's Britain check out my page on this: Representing the World Locally also check out the page Globalisation and Cinema.
Toennies was more concerned with the loss of Gemeinschaft Visconti on the other hand is rather more critical of these older forms of organisation.
When it comes to the books in DD 201 I would suggest that you revise the work on Family and Kinship in East London from Wilmot and Young. This shows how the stereotype of people being isolated in the city was never really the case. There were extending families living in Bethnal Green and according to Wilmot and Young's research and lots of community activities and support. When these families were moved into more modern accommadation their social networks became more extended. The change effected women the most as they didn't usually have a full-time job.
For more on the work of Wilmot and Young go to Book 1 page 234 and also the reading on page 256 for Bethnal Green and 259 for Greenleigh.
Source: Immigrants demonstrating, 1973 (Magnum). From the Michel Foucault.com site
In book one Understanding Everyday Life Foucault pops up early on pp xi-xii.
This introduces us to the idea of cultural technologies such as photography, cinema, TV, the Internet. Not only do these technologies provide an opportinity to extend cultural representation but thay can also be used as new forms of social discipline and provide new forms of surveillance. Foucault did a lot of work on modern disciplinary systems such as the prison, the school, the asylum, the hospital.
The book takes us into the makings of a new disciplinary society where visual communications has an aspect to it which has been described as 'ocular penetration' as people are more and more watched by anonymous powers. People are made visible in different ways through bureaucratic means such as statistics as well as visually based systems of surveillance such as security cameras. Here you might want to think about how the American censuses managed to construct and reconstruct "race" see page 161 book two Social Differences and Divisions. you can also find reference to Foucault's notion of biopower, on page 352 of book 3 Social Change. Here a reading from Donna Haraway describes what she understands by this term:
I understand Foucault's (1978) concept of biopower to refer to the practices of administration, therapeutics and surveillance of bodies that discursively constitute, increase and manage the forces of all living organisms.
Haraway points to the invention of particular terms in the 19th century as examples such as:
- The masturbating child
- The Malthusian couple reproducing far too many children
- The 'hysterical' woman
- The homosexual 'pervert'
For Foucault this tendency of descending individualisation marked a change from earlier societies where the Kings & Queens etc were very much on display whilst the plebs were largely invisible. Making ordinary people visible to invisible powers made them more governable.
On page 69 of book 1 Understanding Everyday Life you will find some discussion about foucault and his ideas on discourse. You will find more on both in your dictionary of sociology as well:
discourse refers to the social rules practices and forms of knowledge that govern what is sayable and doable in any given context (p 69)
Think about how this concept can be applied to ideas such as:
We can also think about Foucault when we come to book 4 The Uses of Sociology when we contemplate the role of sociology. The political perspective of sociology (p106) can be seen through the light of Foucault's expression 'power is always present'. The social knowledge generated by sociological thinking and research means that sociology is inevitably connected with social change usually in terms of emancipation and social change.
For your exam try and think how the work of some key theorists can be related to the various threads across all the books rather than just thinking of the books as discreet entitities.
Max Weber appears early on in DD 201. We are introduced to him on p 12 of Book 1 Understanding Everyday Life. Here Weber is used in relation to understandings of the home which by the late 19th century at least for the poorer classes was being increasingly invaded by the forces of the state, a situation that was to continue up until the present day. Instead of 'Home' being sen as a 'Haven' from the trials and tribulations of the everyday world various agencies were taking an increasingly important role. Reiger adapts Weber's idea of 'Disenchantment' and applied it to the home.
Weber spent a lot of time monitoring the changes from a social world that was based upon religious and magical conceptions into a world that was increasingly controlled by 'rational' and 'scientific' forms of calculation along with a growth of managerial systems to assist in this aim.
Weber also pops up again in Book 2. Here Mike Savage considers Weber's theory of class in comparison to both Marx and Pierre Bourdieu.
Unlike Marx Weber: sees no necessary connection between economic inequality (class), honour and reputation (status) and power (command). suggests Mike Savage.
Marx thought that economic inequalities would eventually lead to a recognition of the social bonds of class through the leadership of the Working class. Marx promoted the idea of strong class identity whilst Weber didn't.
Rosemary Crompton in reading 2.3 of Book 2 p 94 gives a breakdown of Weber's sociological approach. She points out that Weber was a 'methodological individualist'. in other words he thought that human social phenomena can be broken down into their individual parts rather than seeing abstract structures that can be independently identified as key to shaping society.
Weber believed in market determined 'life chances'. This leads Weber into an analysis of class which is superficially similar to Marx's:
- The working class as a whole
- The petty-bourgeoise
- Technicians / specialists / Lower level management
- 'classes privileged through property and education'
Weber thought that classes could carry a range of possible forms of class action but against Marx he considered that this wasn't necessarily the case that this would happen. He recognised that a mass of people who might be an average of the working class might temporarily identify interests but to place this on the pedestal of historical necessity is 'pseudo-scientific'.